Big Question Marks

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Adventures in Capricornia

After striking it rich on the gemfields (ha ha) we started heading east towards the coast again—excited because we had found out our tomato-packing friend from Echuca (well, she’s from Germany really) Bianca had found herself a nice job and a very nice park ranger in the tiny town of Dingo, Queensland. We hadn’t seen her since April and were planning to meet as she drove northwards and we headed south… though both of our trips took way longer than planned (such a huge country!) so hence the unexpected meeting in Dingo.

We stayed for a few days at Ranger John’s house on Taunton National Park, just north of the Capricorn Highway, feeling oh-so-lucky that we got to hang out in a park closed to the public! Taunton used to be farmland, until the farmer read a magazine article about a species of wallaby (the bridled nail-tail wallaby) that was pretty much extinct—the same kind of wallaby terrorizing his property that he was shooting for dog food. As the story goes, he called up the magazine, and Queensland Parks and Wildlife (QPWS), who didn’t believe him—apparently this type of news often results in local kooks making claims and such. It wasn’t until the farmer plopped a dead nail-tail on a QPWS desk that they believed him... and now it’s all history and Taunton now houses the biggest wild population of the adorable little nail-tail (about 90 of them, I think it was). We were taken out on a spotlighting adventure one night and got to see the little creatures in action—they have a sort of fingernail on their tail and they hop with their arms flailing around at their sides. Not sure why they’re so special, but they sure were cute.

And besides all of the wallaby-spotting, we had a great time relaxing and catching up (and doing some spotlighting of our own—with the biggest cane toads ever!). Australia’s a huge place, which makes it even cooler when you run into an old mate somewhere along the way!

We got a taste of the cowboy life over the weekend in Rockhampton (or Rocky, as the locals call it). Bianca had lived in town for a while and told us there was a weekly rodeo. Yeehaw! When we got to the Great Western Hotel, we found out there was no rodeo, just a band that night, but it sure was a hoot seeing the clientele dolled up in their best cowboy-plaid shirts and Wranglers. Country music videos played all night on the big-screen TV next to a pair of bullhorns, and we watched some hoons street-racing their utes—too cool! Not to mention Rocky calls itself the “beef capital of Australia”.

The only beef we had with Rocky was on Friday night, when we camped at a caravan park next to the wide Fitzroy River that cuts through town. Pretty and scenic, we ate dinner outside after applying plenty of bug repellant (as we do every night, being campers in a hot country). When we got back from our cowboy bar, we went to bed only to be woken up about a zillion times by sandflies (or “midgies”) eating us alive. In fact, I don’t think we got any sleep at all—we were killing them in our dreams and while awake. Maybe they were small enough to come in between the holes of our screen windows? They were inside and outside the van—and we’ve never had midgies like these ones, not even when we lived way up in the tropics. We finally got out of bed at 5am and headed to the showers… then sat around swatting bugs till 7am, when the office opened and we could argue for our money back for the following night (last time we ever pay in advance!). The guy at the desk was unsympathetic and claimed to be “open” about the presence of sandflies, and that we should just use bug spray and we’d be fine. (The amount of reapplying we had done I’m sure wasn’t healthy, anyway) We told him, “Dude, we’ve lived in the tropics, we’ve handled these before. They’ve never been THIS bad!” and the jackass said he had to keep a cancellation fee of a few dollars… insult to injury (not to mention there was a creeper in the girls’ bathroom and dive-bombing nesting birds on the pathways). We zoomed off and went to the nicer-sounding Southside Holiday Village to get some sleep! And the rest of our weekend in Rocky was much better… except for poor Adrian, who slept for day due to a cold.

Now we’re heading south—time to do some farmwork and get some cash and our weeks done for our visa extension (we had a great lead on a macadamia farm near Rocky, but troubles with “head office” has us and the farmer unsure). The only work on offer in our area was tomato-picking, and our strong aversion to anything tomato-related has us heading to the south end of Queensland in a flash, it seems. We’re going to do a little whale-watching (we’re in Hervey Bay) first before the farm fun begins, and maybe this time next week we’ll be working in a vineyard…